By Terence Dooley
Kell Brook and Matthew Hatton provided British boxing with a welcome shot in the arm at the weekend when meeting for the WBA Inter-Continental and IBF International welterweight titles in front of 10,000 enthralled fans at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena.
Brook and Hatton conducted themselves like professionals before, during and after the ‘War of the Rose’ showdown and the Matchroom promoted match up brought in a record number of viewers to Sky Sports. It is rumoured that their figures peaked at around 440,000, one of the station’s highest boxing audiences outside of PPV events.
Hatton had to contend with a pro-Brook crowd, a broken nose and Brook’s mercurial ability. The Sheffield star kept ‘Magic’ on the end of straight shots throughout before running out a deserved 118-109, 119-108 and 119-107 winner.
Still, the Mancunian proved why many view him as one of the toughest men on the domestic circuit, not to mention one of our most defensively sound fighters. He was less evasive when speaking to me about the contest, admitting that his nose went early.
“It is definitely broken,” said Matthew, 42-6-2 (16 early). “My nose went in the first round. I couldn’t have got off to a worse start – my game plan went out the window a little bit. Kell’s got a very solid jab; he kept hitting me on the nose, which made me think twice about coming forward.
“[My cutsman] Mick [Williams] wasn’t able to stop the bleeding, he did everything he could and put loads of adrenaline up there, but it wasn’t working – it affected my breathing. I think it was all about my heart and determination; I certainly didn’t want to stop even though the pain was unbelievable. Some people would have stayed on the stool and withdrawn, but that isn’t my way.”
Although out-gunned for the majority of the contest, Hatton detonated a left hook on Brook’s chin in round 10. “I caught him with a good left hook, it made him a little bit uncomfortable and I just wish the nose injury hadn’t come because I’d have been able to apply more pressure,” said Hatton.
The only flashpoint came in round 11. Ricky Hatton was at ringside with the rest of Matthew’s family. “The Hitman” revealed that Brook winked at them during a clinch, he expressed his disappoint over this earlier in the week when stating that ‘It was not nice’.
Matthew told me that these things happen in a fight. He said: “I didn’t really get chance to speak to Kell because I was very disappointed – I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. People have been saying stuff about the wink, but things happen in a fight and I’ve got no problems about that. Kell was respectful. We acquitted ourselves well before, during and after the fight, which is the way it should be.”
Indeed, Terry Thompson, Brook’s father, contacted BoxingScene on Monday to apologise for the wink. Thompson also told me to that as the rounds ticked on and Hatton’s injury worsened, Kell’s mother expressed her concern for Hatton and later said that his bravery brought a lump to her throat. Terry told me that, “Matthew’s a lovely lad – we’d have him round our house for a bit of tea anytime.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice, I’m up for that,” laughed Hatton, who feels that his title journey is not over. “Obviously it has not been long and I’m pretty down and disappointed, but I know there are fights and opportunities out there for me. I’m highly regarded in the EBU rankings and never lost that title in the ring. That’s my next target.”
“[Saul] Alvarez [who Hatton fought for the WBC light-middleweight belt in March 2010] was by far the bigger fighter, but they’re pretty much on the same level, really,” his assessment of Brook’s potential. “I’d say Kell was the more skilful fighter. For all round talent I’d probably regard him higher and as the most skillful fighter I’ve faced.”
The defeat was Hatton’s first domestic setback since losing on points to Craig Watson for the Commonwealth belt in 2008, only the loss to Alvarez and a disputed draw with Lovemore N’dou blotting his copybook since that night. During this time the 30-year-old has brought EBU and the IBF International titles to the Hatton trophy cabinet. Not bad for a guy who has been written off more times than the Sweeny’s motor.
“There’s still good fights out there for me,” he said. “I’ve had knockers throughout my career and that will always be the case. Going on to prove them wrong again and win titles is something that inspires me.”
Brook, now 27-0 (18), is eyeing bigger belts. The 25-year-old is nicknamed “The Special One”, he has shown he can headline a massive show and now feels ready for the next step.
“Matthew said he puts me at number one out of everyone he’s fought,” said Brook. “It does show you how far I can go. Alvarez is a weight above me, but it shows you where I am now. Before the fight I knew what type of fighter Matthew is and what sort of shots would work because of his tight guard. I went straight down the pipe and busted his nose up.
“After he busted his nose he didn’t want to get tagged on it again. It was a safety first approach from him, trying to tie me up and get his way through the fight. They’ll try that [at this level]. I think after what I’ve learned from this fight that people won’t get away with it like Matthew did because I won’t fall in and will be sharper with my shots.”
Brook is not averse to throwing in the odd bit of flash with his bash; the former British titlist has danced to the ring and mounted the corner posts to celebrate after big wins. When the result came in, though, Kell was subdued, preferring instead to display the same calmness and class in victory as he had shown in the months leading up to the contest.
“No, it was more respect for him,” answered Kell when asked if he has toned down his post-fight celebrations. “We both built the fight up with respect for each other and I knew I had won the fight, but didn’t feel the need to do that stuff. I was just glad to get the win that I’d talked about.”
As for the wink, Brook looked down during a clinch and saw the intensity in Ricky Hatton’s face, he wanted to show the former undisputed light-welterweight champion that the occasion hadn’t fazed him. In the blink of an eye he was perceived as a cocky fighter who had stepped out of line. Brook disagrees. “There was no spite behind it,” said Brook.
“I looked at Matthew’s family, it is hard to describe, but you could see that they wanted Matthew to win and it was just a wink to say that I had it under control – I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Brook’s rise through the ranks was defined by stunning stoppage wins, he won his Lonsdale belt outright by halting Barrie Jones, Kevin McIntyre, Stuart Elwell and Michael Lomax, all southpaws, yet has gone the full twelve in two of his last four and did not dispatch Rafal Jackiewicz and Luis Galarza as impressively as he would have liked.
Indeed, Brook found it hard to land with follow up shots on Saturday night. Hatton’s crablike defence had a lot to do with this, but the contender will need to get amongst the big KOs again soon if he is to excite the American fans and TV networks.
“It were, and obviously he’s a good defensive fighter,” said Brook to my question of whether it was hard to nail his opponent with frequent combinations. “It was frustrating because it hard to get to him and he wanted to go long, so there was that aspect to it as well. With these other fighters [at world level] they’ll not think about what I’m doing and come on the offensive themselves, which means they’ll get caught. You’ll see those spectacular knockouts again.”
Brook’s viewing figures have sent ripples through the British boxing community, he is nicely poised in the world rankings and maturing all the time even though he felt the weight of expectation on his shoulders when walking to the ring.
He said: “The pressure wasn’t on Matthew it was on me, but it was nice. The majority of the fans came out to see me and I was the favourite. Apart from the pressure I enjoyed walking out in front of all those people. It shows that I’m becoming a star. Sky got the highest viewing figures outside PPV. I think [Matchroom’s] Eddie [Hearn] has got a lot of faith in me, he will push me into the big fights and I’m working hard because I want to do Matchroom proud.”
Amir Khan has been on Brook’s radar for a long time; it appears that Brook is now on Khan’s mind. The Bolton boxer takes on Lamont Peterson for the WBA and IBF light-welterweight titles in May, he has derided Brook’s win and opposition. Ironic given rumours late last year that Khan was lining up Hatton as his first opponent up at 147lbs.
“Yeah, everyone’s talking about me against Khan on Twitter and I think I’ve been on his mind for a long time because he knows that if he fights me he’ll end up losing,” declared Brook.
“We can go on about it until we’re blue in the face, but the only way they’d take it is if it made business sense because he doesn’t want to fight the best out there, he just wants the pound note. I can tell you one thing, I’ll be ready for that fight if and when it does get paid.”
Why stop at Khan when you gun for Manny Pacquiao? Brook believes he has a secret weapon at his disposal should he ever be plucked from the chorus line by the Philippine legend - years of experience of working in the Ingle style at Brendan and Dominic Ingle’s famous Wincobank gymnasium.
“I think people have seen how fast Manny is, but honestly, and I don’t know if it is because of the Ingle style and what I’ve seen, I think I can beat him,” said Brook. “Manny is only human, Matthew said he thought I was better than Alvarez and I think I’m ready to step up to the highest level.”
For the time being, Brook and Hatton can reflect on a fight well fought and a job well done, and there wasn’t a flying tripod in sight.
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